The virus which causes COVID-19 is mutating – something that viruses naturally do. Like all viruses SARS-CoV-2 has a specific genetic structure and each time it mutates there are small changes to that structure. Researchers around the world are using genetic sequencing technology to find, track, and monitor those unique ‘fingerprints’ for new variants. There are more than 1,000 known variants of SARS-CoV-2 identified so far, but only a few of those have clinical significance.
The Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN
) led by Genome Canada is coordinating and supporting provincial efforts to sequence samples from patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. Since the network launched in April of 2020, more than 32,000 samples have been sequenced across the country.
Genome Alberta has helped fund Alberta’s program which has sequenced more than 4,000 samples so far and is a significant contributor of data to the international GISAID
initiative. GISAID is facilitating the global sharing of information about the novel coronavirus, which is a key element to controlling the pandemic regionally, nationally, and internationally. Researchers need access to as much data as possible to understand the evolution of the virus, and public health officials at all levels need to know which variants they are faced with.
Matthew Croxen is an Assistant Professor in Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology at the University of Alberta. He is is leading the sequencing work taking place at Alberta Precision Laboratories in Calgary and Edmonton. He talked with freelance broadcaster Don Hill about how the province is meeting the challenge.
We have divided the conversation into 2 parts so listen to part 1 now, and check back later for part 2
(Image above: Paul Dieu and Kara Gill, with Alberta Precision Laboratories’ specialized diagnostics team, analyze sequencing data to determine the lineage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Courtesy of Alberta Precision Laboratories)